Monday, May 19, 2008

Wish-Fulfillment City: the Inept Dragon-ride of Eragon


With Eragon, 20th Century Fox has come up with one of the best unintentional comedies of the Christmas season. My son tells me that Eragon was originally an excellent fantasy novel written by a fifteen year old wunderkind Christopher Paolini.

The film adaptation has managed to greatly change all that. The story concerns a young man named Eragon from the land of Alagaesia who happens upon a large stone that eventually hatches a dragon. In the movie, the egg resembles a bright blue watermelon and our hero, played by the blond unknown Edward Speleers, immediately tries to sell the thing in his village, but the local butcher will have nothing to do with it because the evil soldiers of king Galbatorix (played by poor John Malkovich) will kill off everyone if they catch wind of the magic watermelon.

Two problems are immediately apparent. The writing of the film is silly, and director Stefan Fangmeier does not know how to compose a shot very well. For some reason, the studio picked a visual effects wizard to direct his first feature this time, and in a fantasy world reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, such fledgling inexperience immediately calls attention to itself with every awkward cut and crudely staged scene. Fangmeier has difficulty placing two people in one shot when he can instead cut back and forth between their faces in close up, so sometimes it seems like that they are acting by themselves even in conversation. Fight scenes are often incoherent because Fangmeier places the camera too close to the action. When Fangmeier wants to convey evil, he makes the scene much darker, where villains snarl, laugh contemptuously, or wear lots of leather. The evil, torturing troops in this film all look like hung over heavy metal bikers as they lumber about in what looks like the West Virginia mountains, trying to kill our dashing blond hero.

In a storyline that strongly resembles the first Star Wars film, soldiers soon kill Eragon’s uncle, but fortunately the egg has hatched to reveal a blue cat-like younger dragon who makes cute clicking sounds and curls up in Eragon’s lap. To keep within the film’s 104 minutes, the dragon abruptly grows up in one scene so that Rachel Weisz can supply her vocals to the voiceover telepathy the dragon shares with Eragon. Did I mention that Eragon’s mother ran away when he was a mere babe? So I guess it’s a good thing that his dragon sounds like a concerned mother. I half expected her to tell him to wipe his face during dinner with one wing.

Anyway, a shamefaced Jeremy Irons shows up as a former dragon-rider Brom to teach Eragon how to handle his new blue ride. You get lots of swooping helicopter shots of Brom and Eragon horseback riding over glorious mountain ranges with computer-generated waterfalls, and they say things like:

Brom: There was a time when the land flourished without cruelty and fear. You remember... Men astride magnificent beasts. The time of Dragon Riders. That time will come again. My story was about you!
Eragon: I didn't ask for any of this!
Brom: You were chosen, nevertheless. A dragon will only hatch if it feels the presence of it's Rider. Now it's found you. It will serve you and only you. Eragon, you are the next Dragon Rider.
Arya: Be strong, Eragon. They will follow you . . .
Eragon: We fight as one!
Brom: What was once your life is now your legend.

This kind of humorless, grandiloquent malarkey goes on throughout the entire film. Whenever Eragon needs anything, like the skill to repulse the nighttime attack of a bunch of Urgels, he finds that he can hold out his hand and glowing special effects will vanquish them easily. Eragon has nothing special about him whatsoever, but that doesn’t matter I guess to the children in the audience who can identify with him. Last year’s The Chronicles of Narnia had the same kind of plot where children suddenly have royalty conferred upon them for no discernable reason beyond their telegenic good looks.

I forgot to mention that a red-headed elf-girl named Arya (Sienna Guillory) gets tortured by a “shade” named Durza so that Eragon will have to sneak into his boxy evil castle to save her. Eragon communicates with her through dreams, where he sees her do her little elf-dance in the woods. As in Narnia and Star Wars, things culminate into a big battle of good and evil forces where evil wins and our hero gets killed, his body dismembered and scattered through the streets. Just kidding.

Occasionally, the flying scenes on the dragon are fun, as befits the special effects skills of the director, but aside from that there’s nothing to say about this film except one can only imagine the embarrassment of the major actors. John Malkovich struts around in his castle, holds his sword, and says things like “Do not let them reach the Vardens!” and “As long as I am King, disloyalty will be punishable by death.” He probably wishes he is dead now.

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